OC Eyes Formal Collection Process For Fines

OCEAN CITY – A resort committee this month agreed to have the town’s attorney and city manager develop a collections process for municipal infraction fines.

Last week, City Solicitor Heather Stansbury came before the Ocean City Police Commission seeking direction on how to collect unpaid municipal infraction fines.

“It’s a subject I know has been kicked around by a lot of different departments, and it’s come to my department a variety of ways,” she said. “I think it might be one where we all get into a room and make sure we are on the same page.”

Stansbury told commission members last week the state’s attorney’s office stopped prosecuting non-incarcerable municipal infractions four years ago. As a result, as cases concluded not much was done to follow through on collections, she said.

“The question is what do you want to do now to try and collect them?” she said.

Stansbury said the town could refer the process to a local collections agency.

“I think perhaps the best answer is to give my office and the city manager direction to make a decision about what’s the best way to go forward,” she said. “We can certainly contact an outside collection company, get their rates and see what they do.”

Stansbury said the town could also have the city solicitor’s office follow through on the collections process.

Commission member and Council President Matt James questioned if it was something the town even wanted to pursue.

“What are we leaving on the table?” he asked. “What are we not getting each year?”

Stansbury said the town had more than $200,000 in uncollected fines. In reaching out to officials from Montgomery County, she said she learned letter writing was an effective tool.

“They start with essentially letter writing, and they have reported that it surprisingly works,” she said. “They reported that oftentimes people don’t know what they are supposed to do. And even if they come to court, it’s still not clear enough to them that they have to go pay.”

Stansbury suggested the city solicitor’s office work with the city manager to determine a collections process.

“I think what needs to happen on a trial basis … is to let us work with the prosecuting attorney, figure out moving forward what’s worth us pursuing, which ones are worth having a collection company pursue, and circle back through the city manager’s office and maybe do it on a six-month or year trial basis to see how much you left on the table versus how much you spend trying to collect it,” she said. “You don’t want to spend good money after bad, chasing bad debt.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed something should be done to recover the fine dollars.

“I think we should take some action, so the people will be held accountable,” he said.

Councilman Peter Buas said he liked the idea of first having the solicitor’s office write a letter, but then utilizing a local company to handle the collections process if no response is received.

“I see no reason to overcomplicate this,” he said. “We can turn over the entire portfolio right now, have a streamlined system where we send one letter. After that, it’s going to collections and it’s free for the city.”

After further discussion, commission members agreed to have the city solicitor and city manager present a collections process at the next meeting.

“Let me just explore how these collection companies work,” Stansbury said. “They usually take a percentage of collections, so it doesn’t cost you any money.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.